Amy Cobb

Walls Elementary School assistant principal Amy Cobb (second from right) has been named the Mississippi Association of Elementary School Principals winner of its Outstanding Assistant Principal of the Year Award. Cobb is in her 21st year of education in DeSoto County and starting her third year at Walls. Congratulating her are (from left) DeSoto County Schools Supt. Cory Uselton, Walls Elementary School principal Erika Armstrong, and DCS Director of Academic Support and School Improvement Amanda Samples.

Mississippi’s largest public school district will operate during the coming fiscal year with total revenues of more than $313 million but will not ask for a millage increase. 

The DeSoto County School District Board of Education approved the budget at its Thursday morning meeting in Hernando. At the same time, DCS board members also backed a move to start classes this coming school year one day later than earlier agreed upon. The action was taken as a means to get teachers ready for all circumstances in case COVID-19 might rear itself in a second wave later this year once classes start.

Board members heard the budget proposal during a hearing on June 19. The district’s portion of the tax bill remains at 52.85 mills, as was the case last fiscal year. Total budget revenue will grow from $311.19 million to short of $313.06 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Of the expected dollars coming in, nearly $171.5 million will be state dollars, $111.6 million are local dollars, and federal money will amount to $29.9 million.

DCS was able to keep the millage request where it is because only three mills will be dedicated to general obligation bond money, compared to 7.2 mills in the current fiscal year ending June 30.

There will be a slight increase in millage to 47.35 mills for operations and the service on a three-mill note remains at 2.5 mills.

Total budget expenditures for the coming fiscal year starting July 1 will total approximately $328.35 million, a number adjusted for what is termed certificates of participation, which is another funding source used for construction and renovation projects.

DCS also has a fund balance reserve of close to $71.38 million for the coming fiscal year, which is a 28 percent fund balance reserve. Board policy prohibits that reserve from dipping below 25 percent.

Supt. Cory Uselton noted the budget included some provisions brought about by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We added 17 school nurses to the budget so that every elementary, middle, and high school could have a full-time nurse on campus,” Uselton said. “There will also be lots of other safety precautions that are covered there in the budget due to COVID-19. We’re always conservative with the budget but we had to be conservative in a lot of areas this time to be sure that we would be able to cover those safety concerns that we had.”

The district’s ability to accomplish what it can do in the Fiscal Year 20-21 budget was brought about by past budgetary philosophies.

“We’re still in very good shape financially and we want our teachers and all of our employees and our community to know we’re prepared financially for the upcoming school year,” said Uselton. “We’re also prepared as we move into 2021-2022 school year. We try to look long-term with our budgets and especially in times like these.”

The first day for youngsters to return to class this coming year was moved one day forward to start on Aug. 6, after approval of a motion adjusting the school calendar at Thursday’s meeting.

Aug. 5 was to be the first day for school, but it will now be a staff development day for teachers, making three such days for instructors to prepare for the start of the year.

The move also means that one additional school day will be added to meet state requirements. It has not been determined yet when that day will be, but it will either be Nov. 3, Jan. 4, or Feb. 12. Those days are now labeled as staff development days. Parents will be given the finalized calendar in July, Uselton said.

“We feel that the teachers will need an additional day at the beginning of the school year,” said the district superintendent. “There were only two days built into the calendar initially when the calendar was approved in February. Since that time, we know how important it is going to be to cover COVID-19 guidelines and also to discuss distance learning implementation.”

Several policy changes also were adopted that address a variety of items, including graduation requirements and grading. Uselton said the policies were adopted before school started in August since the state Department of Education won’t allow the changes to take place after the first day of classes.

“The Mississippi Department of Education is giving each school district the opportunity to make those changes now but those changes cannot be made after the school year starts,” Uselton explained. “No one knows what will happen as far as state-level decisions and things of that nature with COVID-19. We just want to make sure we’re prepared and making student-centered decisions now so that our students will benefit from that should there be a closure.”

The same grading policy and same graduation requirements will be in place this year as was the case last year.

COBB HONORED BY BOARD: At Thursday’s board meeting, Walls Elementary School assistant principal Amy Cobb was introduced as Mississippi’s Outstanding Assistant Principal of the Year. The award was presented to Cobb by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Cobb, in her 21st year of education in DeSoto County, is recognized for exceptional leadership in her school. Cobb is starting her third year with Walls Elementary.